Eritrea - 02/08/09
Doing some shopping on a Sunday I stumbled across a free festival in Manchester. Situated in Cathedral Gardens just behind the eye-catching glass ski-slope of Urbis a stage and a plethora of stalls had been set up for the Exodus Festival. This was a collaboration between Community Arts North West and 'Greater Manchester's diverse refugee communities'.
There was a lot going on when I arrived, as a quick look around showed. On the main stage Asian Music Talent, with members from Pakistan and India, were fusing classical Asian tunes with bhangra beats and chilled-out western electronica. To one side West African Development were leading a drumming demonstration with audience participation on intricately carved wooden instruments, some drums standing a good four foot tall. Inside Urbis a Tai Chi workshop was in full flow. A good natured and cosmopolitan crowd mingled around, hands full of leaflets or plates of food.
The stalls towards the bottom end of the Gardens, towards the cathedral, were selling hot food. Samosas and curry from the Indian subcontinent, fried plantain from a Nigerian stall. And there at the end was a flag I didn't recognise. A small piece of paper announced that they were the Eritrean Women's Group. I decided that this would be where I would be getting my dinner from.
So what is Eritrean food? I'm sure there's a special hell reserved somewhere for people like me who can now answer: it's just like Ethiopian food essentially. Not surprising when you consider that both nations were once one. For my £3.00 (bargain!) I received a spongy sour injera flatbread. On yop of this I got a mix of rice and veg (peas and sweetcorn), some cooked green beans, a pile of vivid green stewed spinach, and a meat stew. The rice was ho-hum, the beans quite nice, having been cooked in a tomato and onion salsa. The spinach I did not care for; it was bitter and slimy. However the meat stew was great! I had to ask the ladies on duty what it was. Apparently it goes by the name of zigni, and is beef in a red sauce comprised of cheese, onions, garlic and tomato. To this was added chilli and berbere spice. And it was deceptively spicy - it was only once I had already forked in my second mouthful that the tingling dry heat of the first mouthful hit my lips.
The women's group had also put on an Eritrean coffee ceremony. A lasy in robes and headdress sat at a decorated chest, heating thimbles of treacly black coffee over a paraffin stove. I'm sorry to admit that I really do not like coffee, one of the most over-rated beverages in the world in my opinion. Even the smell of this rich concentrated coffee upset me a little so I left part way through. Instead I wandered through the crowds tearing off bites from my injera to eat.